Human-dog conflict in India
India has up to 59 million street dogs1 and endures approximately 20,000 human cases of the rabies virus annually2. These figures are the highest in the world and inextricably linked to each other as dogs mediate over 99% of human rabies cases, primarily through bites2. In some areas, dog-human bites increased by 88% in one year. These aspects generate further ill-feeling towards dogs in a culture that is vulnerable to negative perceptions of dogs as dirty outcasts3. Some citizens have begun killing dogs. What humane alternatives exist to ease the human-dog conflict?
Welfare issues and the current situation
Dog bites among humans, livestock and wildlife lead to injury, or death either directly or indirectly through rabies4. If provoked, dogs can bite out of self-defence5. Unprovoked attacks may result from hunger; trying to access food from humans; a deep-rooted fear of humans caused by witnessing human violence towards dogs; or a predatory instinct if people or other animals flee when dogs approach5. Rabies damages the central nervous system, frequently causing aggression in its victims6; this could also cause dogs’ aggression. Dogs further affect humans due to the emotional and economic costs of attacks on livestock and wildlife including critically endangered species7.
Improper garbage management, suboptimal pet ownership and ensuing inadequate mass sterilisation and care programmes have caused burgeoning street-dog populations5. India’s street dogs battle starvation, heat, human violence, disease and drastically shortened lifespans5. Panic, ignorance and a need for immediate action5 cause indiscriminate inhumane dog culling at individual, group and state levels. Children and other dogs often witness this, which reinforces fear and leads to
further attacks from both sides of the conflict8.
Dog culling breaches India’s Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001. Studies also highlight dog culling as ineffective for population control because dogs from surrounding areas claim the newly available territory9. Moreover, in the north-eastern state Nagaland, an illegal dog meat trade exists that hostility to dogs could fuel further.
Humane solutions and challenges
Past attempts at managing India’s human-dog conflict have concentrated on dog sterilisation. Whilst vital for future dog population control, focusing only on this fails to resolve present conflicts5. In 2017, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) piloted a more holistic programme in the state of Kerala5. Mirroring strategies of the global campaign to eliminate rabies by 2030, this pilot boasted the following factors5:
- A One Health approach. This considers both human and animal welfare, recognising our interdependence and preventing friction forming between different stakeholders.
- A multi-dimensional approach. This addresses the causes and immediate effects of human-dog conflict concurrently, alongside systematic sterilisation efforts.
- Education about dog-bite prevention and rabies treatment. This helps people to feel confident around dogs and ensures they know what action to take if dog bites do occur.
- Counselling for dog-bite victims. This safeguards human psychological welfare and encourages neutral or positive attitudes towards dogs.
- Systematic vaccination of 70% of dog populations. This safeguards dog and human welfare and creates a buffer against non-vaccinated dogs.
The pilot’s impact assessment indicates success5. For example, awareness about dog body language and appropriate behaviour around dogs increased 100% (if dogs approach, stand still and let them sniff you rather than fleeing), and patients hospitalised by dog bites showed a 50% increase in awareness about rabies prevention. FIAPO is lobbying for the programme to spread across India5.
The following challenges remain in resolving the human-dog conflict:
- All Indian states and neighbouring countries sharing high incidences of rabies and street-dog problems need to commit to such initiatives5. Otherwise, non-local street dogs will simply spread into well-managed areas.
- India is a lower-middle income country10, thus significant on-going investment will also be necessary. Moreover, India’s human-dog conflict typically affects India’s vulnerable young, poor, uneducated and rural-dwelling citizens5. Rural areas must receive extensive coverage where there is the least access to education and medical resources11. Research into non-surgical sterilisation and oral vaccines may help them become more viable2, potentially freeing-up time-intensive and staff-expertise resources involved in the current methods used.
- During surveys, citizens may provide conflicting information regarding the extent of dog supervision and purposefully misreport due to fear of punishment (e.g., fines)5. This could misinform our understanding of human behaviour towards dogs, and thus hamper treatment efforts.
Summary and how you can help
Key stakeholders recognise dog culling as inhumane and counterproductive to citizens’ needs concerning India’s human-dog conflict. The conflict’s cause is multi-factorial and requires a multi-factorial response. You can learn more here and help by maintaining pressure on international organisations to continue to invest resources into eliminating rabies humanely and effectively.
- Gompper, M.E. (2014). The dog-human-wildlife interface: Assessing the scope of the problem. In: Gompper, M.E. (ed.). Free-Ranging Dogs and Wildlife Conservation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 9-54.
- World Health Organization (2013). WHO Expert Consultation on Rabies. Available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85346/1/9789240690943_eng.pdf [accessed 19 Feb. 2018].
- Kellett, P.M. (2017). Pariahs among us? Transforming conflicted constructions of urban street dogs in India. In: Kellet, P.M. and Matyok, T.G. (eds.). Communication and Conflict Transformation through Local, Regional, and Global Engagement. Lanham, MD, USA: Lexington Books. 159-172.
- Home, C., Pal, R., Sharma, R.K., Suryawanshi, K.R. and Bhatnagar, Y.V. (2017). Commensal in conflict: Livestock depredation patterns by free-ranging domestic dogs in the Upper Spiti Landscape, Himachal Pradesh, India. Ambio. 46 (6). 655-666.
- Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (2017). Rabies Free India – Kerala: Successful Pilot for the Holistic Programme to Minimize Human-Dog Conflict. Available at: http://fiapo.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Rabies-Free-India-Report-final-2.pdf [accessed 15 Feb. 2018].
- American Friends of Tel Aviv University (2014). How rabies ‘hijacks’ neurons to attack brain. 6 (2014). Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141006133424.htm [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
- Home, C., Bhatnagar, Y.V. and Vanak, A.T. (2017). Canine conundrum: Domestic dogs as an invasive species and their impacts on wildlife in India. Animal Conservation. DOI:10.1111/acv.12389.
- Arluke, A. and Atema, K.N. (2017). Roaming dogs. In: Kalof, L. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. 113-134.
- IFAW (2015). World Rabies Day: Culling is not the answer. September 28, 2015. Available at: https://www.ifaw.org/united-states/news/world-rabies-day-culling-not-answer [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
- World Bank (2016). Data for lower middle income, India. Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/?locations=XN-IN [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
- Sharma, S., Agarwal, A., Khan, A.M. and Ingle, G.K. (2016). Prevalence of dog bites in rural and urban slums of Delhi: A community-based study. Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research. 6 (2). 115-119.
- Frederic Spycher (2014). Man feeding some stray dogs [digital image]. Distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spycherf/12527535113 [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
- Achat1999 (2016). Female and adolescent Indogs rummaging through a garbage bin for food [digital image]. Distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_and_adolescent_Indogs_rummaging_through_a_garbage_bin_for_food._02.jpg [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].